Thursday, 21 December 2017

Film Review | Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

image credit: entertainment weekly/disney/lucasfilm

I’ve never been to a midnight premiere of anything before, so to be one of the first to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi as it was released last Wednesday night/Thursday was an absolute treat. Seeing as I saw it on release day, I was planning to have this review out last Thursday … that was until the onslaught of negative reviews via fans came flowing through the floodgates. I decided to sit on the reaction to the film and formulate my counter-argument.

For me, the Star Wars universe as a whole means a hell of a lot to me. I, like the majority of those that watch the films, grew up surrounded by a galaxy far, far away. Myself and my brother were born in the 90s, so we grew up with the prequels in our peripheral vision rather than the original trilogy. Thankfully, though, our first exposure to Star Wars was A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi courtesy of our parents. Now, I’m not as versed in the intricacies of the universe like my brother is, but I know and am familiar with the basics and certain aspects of the story. I have deep connections rooted with the characters, planets and narrative arcs that hold the films together, and ultimately gave me deep (and often unrealistic) expectations as to what would appear in the sequel saga.

If you want to hear my opinions on The Force Awakens, read my review of it here over at The Edge. In short, I loved it. It had its nostalgic flaws, but I admired how J. J. Abrams took such an iconic, beloved franchise and retained its core objectives, whilst adding his own cinematic flair to the mix. Sure, it did hit a lot (and I mean a lot) of narrative cues from A New Hope, but the focus drawn on the introductions of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gave Abrams a commendable feat as it only took one film to really care for each of them separately. This care and attention transfer seamlessly into The Last Jedi, which was handed to Looper/Brick/Breaking Bad director Rian Johnson. 

Johnson transfers his forte regarding character development and intricate detail to the second saga, implementing facets of the new – and old – faces that inhabit the worlds within the Star Wars universe. Whether its Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) writhing in his denial of the balance that resides within the force or Luke’s utter failure at mentoring and teaching his nephew to become a Jedi like himself and those before him. This depth allows emotional tension between every single character to preside at the forefront of the story, rather than just the Skywalker family as it did – and rightfully so – in the original trilogy and the prequels. This trilogy is obviously setting up a story arc for the new trio, and rightly so. The Star Wars galaxy is so deep and diverse, it does not all revolve around the Skywalker clan, and I can’t wait to see what is done in that regard in the film canon.

A die-hard fan himself, Johnson obviously wrote and directed The Last Jedi with a lot of his own personality, likes and dislikes of the franchise and what aspects of narrative would work after what Abrams set up in The Force Awakens. On a larger scale, not a lot happens in The Last Jedi. All the introductions have been done, there aren’t many theatrical space battles or reveals. It’s all down to the development, which is where the middle film of a franchise such as this needs to be. The finale – i.e. Episode IX needs to be straight and to the point; a crescendo of the new trilogy if you will. One could go as far to say that The Last Jedi is filler – and you wouldn’t be wrong. It is. But Johnson’s ability to take the mundane and turn it into a mastery of storytelling and direction (take the Breaking Bad episode ‘Fly’, for example) makes The Last Jedi a stand-out film within the Star Wars canon. 


In brief, The Last Jedi picks off where it left off … kind of. It doesn't start immediately from Rey handing Luke his lightsabre, rather in medias res within a battle between the Resistance and the First Order. This battle lasts throughout the majority of the film, conjuring an extremely slow chase sequence that allows characters such as Poe and Finn to grow, and aspects of major players such as General Leia (Carrie Fisher) to flourish. Surrounding this, Rey strives to get Luke off the Porg-infested island Ahch-To to save the Resistance and bring balance to the force whilst she battles with her inner-struggles between the light and dark from influences of Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). There is also the constant break within these arcs involving Finn and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) in the Casino town of Canto Bight on Cantonica – this aspect of the film is a gripe I can agree with, it was often too frequently cutting between major sequences, creating a constant stopping force for an arc that never really leads anywhere, other than creating a galactic tryst between Finn and Rose.

Even though Finn and Rose were dealt with an arc that didn’t amount to much, Boyega and Tran’s chemistry was enough to carry each scene along with some enjoyment. The performances of the new trio have improved immensely, mainly regarding Boyega and Ridley. They’ve really found ground with their characters in this installment, and have embodied them to the fullest. Isaac has done the same, but let's be real here – he was the star of TFA, and he shone here too. Maybe that’s the Poe fangirl in me, but man I love that his steadfast and impulsive characteristics were molded into a hindrance for his character in this film via Johnson’s writing, letting Poe grow and become responsible for his hotshot actions.

In regard to the qualms many seem to have with The Last Jedi, I really do not understand the length that some people are willing to go to shit on the film. Luke isn’t the only character in Star Wars, neither is Leia, Han or any of the characters that came from the original saga. We knew that this trilogy would continue the star wars of a massive galaxy, and the Skywalker family are a small aspect of that. Sure, the Empire, the Rebellion, the First Order and the Resistance are huge aspects to a large war, but there are smaller characters and other planets that are left to explore and have been in many other media for the franchise.

To say that Johnson betrayed Luke’s character is far beyond ridiculous. Johnson builds upon what Lucas created, strengthening and fleshing Luke out to be a believable character; i.e. a flawed human being. No matter if you’re a legendary Jedi or a nobody, you cannot be perfect. Johnson’s confidence in portraying emotional depth and truth within characters that have never had this treatment may be jarring, sure. But it has been truly needed for a while now, and I’m for one happy that it’s finally being portrayed in characters such as Luke. It allows a stronger connection to be made between the character and the audience, and an understanding as to how we can deal with our own failures. Essentially, we can’t all be heroes, but we can try to be.

All the controversy surrounding certain aspects of The Last Jedi is making me all the more excited for Episode IV. The same happened with The Force Awakens, it’s the foreboding answers to questions that are still being asked (i.e. Rey’s parentage) and the reactions of audiences that will forever keep the Star Wars saga on its toes, and The Last Jedi has had the most intriguing reaction to date. Johnson grabbed the franchise by the balls and ran with it, and I’m so glad that he did.

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, certified 12A

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